It may be hard to believe, but it was once considered unseemly for a U.S. presidential candidate to be seen campaigning for the job. Instead, a candidate would sit on his porch at home, welcoming supporters and collecting endorsements. While we have moved away from that more passive approach, the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on this year’s presidential campaign is uneven.
For President Donald Trump, pandemic restrictions limit his attendance at his preferred mass rallies. But he has an almost daily platform of significant exposure to voters through presidential news conferences, breathless national network coverage and numerous White House-orchestrated activities and ceremonies.
By contrast, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — who has been largely relegated to communicating with voters from his home basement — is unable to take advantage of the kinds of exposures that are afforded a sitting president, and is prevented by the pandemic from participating in the glad-handing and interpersonal involvements at which he excels.
While he has recently increased his exposure with visits to protest sites and a broadcast speech about the unrest, there is an aspect of his campaign that seems unduly restrictive, and could limit his reach and appeal. And that’s his promised approach to the selection of his much anticipated choice of a running mate.
In this particular race — between two septuagenarians — there is a lot of voter interest in each candidate’s designated No. 2. The role of the vice president has expanded over the last few administrations, as able and experienced politicians have been given executive portfolios and increasingly aided the president in the performance of his impossibly complex job. Given their ages, the vice presidential choices by Biden and Trump are consequential. Whoever is elected, he will be America’s oldest president at the beginning of his term, and his vice president must be ready to succeed him from day one.
Both candidates need to choose the best person for the job. And that’s why we believe Biden made a mistake in limiting his pool of choices by 50 percent when he made the unconditional promise to pick a female running mate.
If the woman Biden chooses has all the abilities and experience necessary to be the best vice presidential fit for him, that would be great. But that should be because she’s the best person for the job, not because she’s female.
The challenges that the next administration will face are arguably the most daunting since World War II. Those include the U.S. retreat from the world stage, the growing cracks in our constitutional system, disturbing increases in racial tensions, significant economic challenges and disquieting political polarization.
Our country will benefit from having a vice president who is the best person available to work with the next president — without regard to gender.